Recording the "Magical Mystery Tour" soundtrack

Apr 25 - May 3 and Aug 22 - Nov 17, 1967 • For The Beatles

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Magical Mystery Tour (US LP - Mono) LP.
EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Chappell Recording Studios, London UK

Songs recorded


In April of 1967, Paul McCartney spent two weeks vacationing in the United States before boarding a flight back to London on April 12. During the flight, he borrowed a notepad from a stewardess and defined a rough plan for a Beatles television film.

Upon returning to London, the first order of business was to complete the mixing process for the soon-to-be-released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. Paul also introduced the “Magical Mystery Tour” project to the other Beatles for their approval, although a working schedule had yet to be established.

Between April 25 and May 3, The Beatles recorded the title track “Magical Mystery Tour“. As the project gained clarity, they recorded the remaining songs for the soundtrack from August 22 to November 7, 1967.

From Wikipedia:

Recording history

The Beatles first recorded the film’s title song, with sessions taking place at EMI Studios in London between 25 April and 3 May. An instrumental jam was recorded on 9 May for possible inclusion in the film, although it was never completed. According to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, the Magical Mystery Tour sessions “began in earnest” on 5 September; filming started on 11 September, and the two activities became increasingly “intertwined” during October. Most of the 16 September session was dedicated to taping a basic track for McCartney’s “Your Mother Should Know“, only for McCartney to then decide to return to the version he had previously discarded, from 22–23 August. The latter sessions marked the Beatles’ first in close to two months and took place at a facility new to the band – Chappell Recording Studios in central London – since they were unable to book EMI at short notice.

Many Beatles biographers characterise the group’s post-Sgt. Pepper recording sessions of 1967 as aimless and undisciplined. The Beatles’ use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD was at its height during that summer and, in author Ian MacDonald’s view, this resulted in a lack of judgment in their recordings as the band embraced randomness and sonic experimentation. George Martin, the group’s producer, chose to distance himself from their work at this time, saying that much of the Magical Mystery Tour recording was “disorganised chaos”. Ken Scott, who became their senior recording engineer during the sessions, recalled, “the Beatles had taken over things so much that I was more their right-hand man than George Martin’s”.

Early, pre-overdub mixes of some of the film songs were prepared on 16 September, before the Beatles performed the music sequences during a six-day shoot at RAF West Malling, a Royal Air Force base in Kent. The recording sessions continued alongside editing of the film footage, which took place in an editing suite in Soho and was mostly overseen by McCartney. The process led to a struggle between him and Lennon over the film’s content. The Beatles also recorded “Hello, Goodbye” for release as a single accompanying the soundtrack record. That his film song “I Am the Walrus” was relegated to the B-side of the single, in favour of McCartney’s pop-oriented “Hello, Goodbye”, was another source of rancour for Lennon. He later recalled, “I began to submerge.”

During this time, the band’s commitment to the Maharishi’s teachings remained strong. Barrow later wrote that Lennon, Harrison and Ringo Starr were “itching” to travel to India and study with their teacher, but they agreed to postpone the trip and complete the film’s soundtrack and editing. Harrison and Lennon promoted Transcendental Meditation with two appearances on David Frost’s TV show The Frost Programme, and Harrison and Starr visited the Maharishi in Copenhagen. All four band members attended the 17 October memorial service for Epstein, held at the New London Synagogue on Abbey Road, close to EMI Studios, and the 18 October world premiere of How I Won the War, a film in which Lennon had a starring role. Recording for Magical Mystery Tour was completed on 7 November. That day, the title song was given a new barker-style introduction by McCartney (replacing Lennon’s effort, which was nevertheless retained in the version used in the film) and an overdub of traffic sounds.

Three pieces of incidental music were recorded but omitted from the soundtrack record. In the case of “Shirley’s Wild Accordion”, the scene was cut from the film. Featuring an accordion score by arranger Mike Leander, it was performed by Shirley Evans with percussion contributions from Starr and McCartney, and recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in October. “Jessie’s Dream” was taped privately by the Beatles and copyrighted to McCartney–Starkey–Harrison–Lennon, while the third item was a brief Mellotron piece used to orchestrate the line “The magic is beginning to work” in the film.

Production techniques and sounds

In their new songs, the Beatles continued the studio experimentation that had typified Sgt. Pepper and the psychedelic sound they had introduced in 1966 with Revolver. Author Mark Hertsgaard highlights “I Am the Walrus” as the fulfilment of the band’s “guiding principle” during the sessions – namely to experiment and be “different”. To satisfy Lennon’s request that his voice should sound like “it came from the moon”, the engineers gave him a low-quality microphone to sing into and saturated the signal from the preamp microphone. In addition to the song’s string and horn arrangement, Martin wrote a score for the sixteen backing vocalists (the Mike Sammes Singers), in which their laughter, exaggerated vocalising and other noises evoked the LSD-inspired mood that Lennon sought for the piece. The orchestral arrangement and the vocal score were recorded on a separate four-track tape, which Martin and Scott then manually synchronised with the tape containing the band’s performance. The track was completed with Lennon overdubbing live radio signals found at random, finally settling on a BBC Third Programme broadcast of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear.

According to musicologist Thomas MacFarlane, Magical Mystery Tour shows the Beatles once more “focusing on colour and texture as important compositional elements” and exploring the “aesthetic possibilities” of studio technology. “Blue Jay Way” features extensive use of three studio techniques employed by the Beatles over 1966–67: flanging, an audio delay effect; sound-signal rotation via a Leslie speaker; and (in the stereo mix only) reversed tapes. In the case of the latter technique, a recording of the completed track was played backwards and faded in at key points during the performance, creating an effect whereby the backing vocals appear to answer each line of Harrison’s lead vocal in the verses. Due to the limits of multitracking, the process of feeding in reversed sounds was carried out live during the final mixing session. A tape loop of decelerated guitar sounds was used on “The Fool on the Hill” to create a swooshing bird-like effect towards the end of that song. Lennon and Starr prepared seven minutes’ worth of tape loops as a coda to “Flying“, but this was discarded, leaving the track to end with a 30-second burst of Mellotron sounds.

Although he recognises Sgt. Pepper as the highpoint of the Beatles’ application of sound “colorisation”, musicologist Walter Everett says that the band introduced some effective “new touches” during this period. He highlights the slow guitar tremolo on “Flying”, the combination of female and male vocal chorus, cello glissandi and found sounds on “I Am the Walrus”, and the interplay between the lead vocal and violas on “Hello, Goodbye”. In MacFarlane’s description, the songs reflect the Beatles’ growing interest in stereo mixes, as “remarkable sonic qualities” are revealed in the placement of sounds across the stereo image, making for a more active listening experience. […]

‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was co-written by John and I, very much in our fairground period. One of our great inspirations was always the barker. ‘Roll up! Roll up!’ The promise of something: the newspaper ad that says ‘guaranteed not to crack’, the ‘high class’ butcher, ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ from ‘Sgt. Pepper’. ‘Come inside,’ ‘Step inside, Love’; you’ll find that pervades a lot of my songs. If you look at all the Lennon—McCartney things, it’s a thing we do a lot.

I used to go to the fairgrounds as a kid, the waltzers and the dodgems, but what interested me was the freak shows: the boxing booths, the bearded lady and the sheep with five legs, which actually was a four-legged sheep with one leg sewn on its side. When I touched it, the fellow said, ‘Hey, leave that alone!’ These were the great things of your youth. So much of your writing comes from this period; your golden memories. If I’m stuck for an idea, I can always think of a great summer, think of a time when I went to the seaside. Okay, sand sun waves donkeys laughter. That’s a pretty good scenario for a song.

John and I remembered mystery tours, and we always thought this was a fascinating idea: getting on a bus and not knowing where you were going. Rather romantic and slightly surreal! All these old dears with the blué rinses going off to mysterious places. Generally there’s a crate of ale in the boot of the coach and you sing lots of songs. It’s a charabanc trip. So we took that idea and used it as a basis for a song and the film.

Because those were psychedelic times it had to become a magical mystery tour, a little bit more surreal than the real ones to give us a licence to do it. But it employs all the circus and fairground barkers, ‘Roll up! Roll up!’, which was also a reference to rolling up a joint. We were always sticking those little things in that we knew our friends would get; veiled references to drugs and to trips. ‘Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away,’ so that’s a kind of drug, ‘it’s dying to take you away’ so that’s a Tibetan Book of the Dead reference. We put all these words in and if you were just an ordinary person, it’s a nice bus that’s waiting to take you away, but if you’re tripping, it’s dying, it’s the real tour, the real magical mystery tour. We stuck all that stuff in for our ‘in group’ of friends really.

Magical Mystery Tour was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that. “That’ll be good, a far-out mystery tour. Nobody quite knows where they’re going. We can take ’em anywhere we want, man!’ Which was the feeling of the period. ‘They can go in the sky. It can take off!’ In fact, in the early script, which was just a few fireside chats more than a script, the bus was going to actually take off and fly up to the magicians in the clouds, which was us all dressed in red magicians’ costumes, and we’d mess around ina little laboratory being silly for a while.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

I tended to lay back on Magical Mystery Tour and let them have their head. Some of the sounds weren’t very good. Some were brilliant but some were bloody awful. “I Am The Walrus” was organised — it was organised chaos. I’m proud of that. But there was also disorganised chaos that I’m not very proud of.

George Martin – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn, 1988

Randomness as art appealed to all of the Beatles very much. […] Sometimes, therefore, they would jam for hours in the studio, and we would be expected to tape it all, recognizing the moment of great genius when it came through. The only trouble was, it never did come through.

This free-form associative tinkering happened a lot after Pepper, on Magical Mystery Tour. It was a side to the Beatles that I found rather tedious. I used to say to them, ‘If you want to be random, let’s be organized about it’, which was definitely not what they wanted to hear when they were in that mood. But they would just about put up with it, from me.

George Martin – From “With A Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper“, 1995

My engineering debut with The Beatles was in the middle of Magical Mystery Tour, a strange project which seemed very disorganised in terms of material. It went from “Your Mother Should Know” to “Blue Jay Way” to “I Am the Walrus,” each one so different from the next. There was no particular direction, but I only realised that later after I had settled into the job a bit.

Ken Scott – From “Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust“, 2012

They half knew what they wanted and half didn’t know, not until they’d tried everything. The only specific thought they seemed to have in their mind was to be different.

Ken Scott – Engineer at EMI – From “A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles” by Mark Hertsgaard, 1996


“MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR” was the first to be recorded — at the end of April and the start of May. That’s Paul’s voice you hear doing the “commercial” at the beginning and he’s also the lead singer with the others joining in behind and doing the answering bits. Three trumpet players came in to add “Penny Lane” sounds to the accompaniment. Paul played the piano with special echo effects added at the end where it sounds as though someone is actually singing with the piano.

On August 22 work began at Chappell Studios in New Bond Street on “YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW”. Paul was lead singer again on this track and he played piano. At one point you hear John joining him on organ.

In date order the next track was George’s “BLUE JAY WAY”, started on September 6. All the way through you hear two Harrison voices — he recorded the second one on top of the first to get the “duet” effect. Later he recorded the vocal backing with Paul. A technical process called “phasing” was used on the vocal sound and on George’s Hammond Organ playing to create that fascinating “swirling” effect. The only additional instrument heard here is a single cello but there are studio-built technical effects used on the very end of the record.


Around the same time (first week of September) John got busy on “l AM THE WALRUS”. As you can imagine this one took a lot of time and The Beatles kept coming back to it right the way through September. The opening features Master Mellotroneer John. Then you hear 8 violins and 4 cellos making all the string music for which producer George Martin did the score. John’s singing is double-tracked which means you hear his voice twice-over all through the song. The other instruments are three horns — plus “radio voices” which
keep butting in at odd moments. And, of course, there’s a full-scale choir on this track. Six boys and six girls belonging to the Michael Sammes Singers. You hear the boys singing “Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumpah!” and the girls do that “Everybody’s got one” bit. Dunno who says “Sit down, father, rest you!” but it sounds very pleasant there at the end doesn’t it!

Next on the agenda came the instrumental, “FLYING”, which was started on September 8. John plays the main tune on his Highly Intelligent Trained Mellotron and Paul and George play an assortment of guitars. The whole group got together to do the chanting bit later on in the arrangement and at the end electronic sounds take over. John and Ringo built up these sounds in the studio and you hear some of their recorded tape loops played backwards.


Before beginning “THE FOOL ON THE HILL”, the group decided to do “Your Mother Should Know” again. They didn’t like various things about the first version and thought of ways in which it should be improved. After that “THE FOOL ON THE HILL” got under way on September 25. A decidedly Pauly sort of ballad with him singing and playing piano. Ringo plays the finger cymbals, George and John use harmonicas and Paul double-tracked his playing of the recorder to make it sound like two. The solo guitar passage is (of course) George. The only other instrument heard on “The Fool on the Hill” is a flute played by Paul.

The last few days of September were used to put the finishing touches on “Walrus”. And that was it so far as the “Magical Mystery Tour” soundtrack numbers were concerned.

On October 2 it was time to get going on “Hello, Goodbye”. Work on this recording was spread over quite a few weeks because all the four boys were busy editing and doing other jobs connected with the “Magical Mystery Tour” film. You already know that Paul is the lead singer on “Hello, Goodbye” with George joining him and John to supply the answering voices. Those spiky, metallic guitar chords are played by John and George. Session men added the sound of two violas. Paul is on the piano and extra percussion rhythm instruments like bongos and conga drums were brought in towards the end for the Maori finale! Incidentally sessions were delayed a couple of days in October when Paul got a swollen face caused by a hole in one of his teeth. But he’s O.K. now!

Mal Evans – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°54, January 1968

Last updated on May 17, 2023

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